PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

talk show product manager #

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


Brand provides emotional context, which creates a contact between you and your customers

Brands evoke a subtle mix of people’s hopes, dreams and aspirations

Apple’s famous “1984” Super Bowl ad began a branding campaign that portrayed it as a symbol of counterculture


If you’re responsible for your product as a whole, you should give some consideration to its brand. Brand is not purely about the words, logos, colours or tone of voice you use to describe your product in promotional materials. It’s much more than that.

What is brand? #

Brand is a way of articulating the emotional connection that people feel for your company and its products. It’s about many things, but in my view it’s most of all about trust — trust that you will do what you have promised your users that you will do for them.

While brand is not as critical to a product’s success as, say, ensuring it finds product-market fit in a large enough market, when used well it offers a catalyst to greater success.

In culinary terms, it’s a bit like adding truffle to a dish. When used sparingly, the ingredient enhances the other flavours that were there all along, making the the dish more vivid. But it’s difficult to quantify precisely how this alchemy has been achieved.

Apple is a perfect example of an emotional brand: people feel a personal connection with it. Apple promises you a human touch, innovative and clean design, and technology that empowers you. Its brand is so powerful that it continues to inspire unflinching loyalty from its customers despite the occasional but significant product misfires.

Antennagate #

Remember Antennagate? The iPhone 4 in 2010 should have been a triumphant launch, being the first model to include the high resolution Retina screen, along with a quality camera. However the design choice to make the cellular antenna a band around the perimeter of the phone meant that its signal reception degraded noticeably when held without a protective case.

Apple’s initial response was to deflect — “Just avoid holding it that way,” wrote Steve Jobs in an email at the time — and to point to similar flaws in other manufacturers’ phones, drawing out the drama for two years. In the end, Apple settled a class action with iPhone 4 buyers by offering them $15 or a free phone case.

The fragile butterfly (keyboard) #

Another high profile design misstep was the “butterfly” keyboard used on various MacBook models from 2015 through 2020. Presumably in a nod to its equally delicate namesake, its sleek, short-travel keys were easily damaged, and the only fix was to replace the entire keyboard.

Apple was again slow to acknowledge the problem, even refusing to repair keyboards in some cases. And once again it had to settle a class action, this time for $50 million.

Saved by a strong brand #

A lesser company would have been seriously bruised by these problems. And yet there appeared to be no significant disruption to sales of the iPhone 4 or their MacBooks.

Yet Apple barely even needed to bounce back from these product problems. Any tarnish to its brand reputation was short-lived, forgiven and soon forgotten by its brand faithful. Apple just kept on innovating with new iPhone models and its shift to more powerful in-house silicon. By doing so it upheld its brand promise of technological empowerment, and continued to retain the loyalty of its customers.

From the outside at least, it would seem that the combination of of Apple’s brand strength and a product strategy that closely aligned with its brand values afforded it some protection from its mistakes.

For you this week #

If you want to learn more about brand, a great place to start is The Brand Handbook by the late, great Wally Olins.

Before diving into the book, you can get a good sense of Olins’ sense of mischief and humour from his many interviews. In particular, one of the last he gave was with his collaborator Daren Cook to Courier. In the discussion, they start to draw out some of the important concepts that define a company’s brand:

DAREN: Well, there are two types of people, whether they’re founders of startups or CEOs of big businesses. There are those who understand the value of brand and get it, and those who don’t. That’s really important because great work only comes when clients let you do great work and understand the value of it. The idea of brand is both huge and nebulous, and perhaps that’s why people are scared of it.

COURIER: Can you go into specifics about what those conversations are like?

WALLY: You talk about the product and the environment, the communication and promotion all being related to each other. If you’re dealing with people who are emotionally adjusted to that idea, even if they know nothing about it, it doesn’t matter what their background is, they will get it.

Wally Olins and Daren Cook on branding – Courier

In case you think I’m some kind of Apple shill, this week I also include an old but good critique of Apple’s brand strategy by Leander Kahney for Wired. For context, it was written just after the return of Steve Jobs and the launch of the iMac, with the events of the 1990s that nearly drove it bankrupt firmly in the rear-view mirror. It includes more critical views of from authors such as Naomi Klein, who takes issue with companies that overtly sell their brand rather than their products.

Speak to you soon,


The link to Wally Olins’ book is an Amazon affiliate link, meaning I would earn a small commission on any purchases you made.

what to think about this week

Wally Olins and Daren Cook on branding

Wally Olins is widely acknowledged as the godfather of branding, effectively creating the idea of the ‘corporate personality’, and remained at the forefront of company identity and brand thinking. He sadly passed away in April 2014.

Courier and Daren Cook sat with him a few weeks prior to his death where Olins spoke about the role of branding for startups and why founders often confuse branding with logos.

Throughout our contact with Olins for this article, he exuded the energy, intelligence, warmth and mischief that’s marked his sparkling career.

“You can’t hide a terrible product behind a brand”

[Courier / Medium]

Wally Olins: The Brand Handbook

Wally Olins sets out the ground rules for branding success in the 21st century, explaining why understanding the links between business, brand and consumer has never been more vital for commercial success, and reflecting the recent enormous changes in the branding world.

A starting point for learning about brand

[Wally Olins / Thames & Hudson]

Apple: It’s all about the brand

Apple is one of the leading branding companies in the world. Marketing experts like Marc Gobe argue that Apple’s brand is the key to the company’s success. It’s got nothing to do with products like the iMac or iPod. Ask marketers and advertising experts why Mac users are so loyal, and they all cite the same reason: Apple’s brand.

Products have limited life cycles, but brands — if managed well — last forever

[Leander Kahney / Medium]

The saga of Apple’s bad butterfly MacBook keyboards is finally over

Apple obstinately stuck with this keyboard design for much too long, hurting its image and causing wholly unnecessary hassle and cost for its customers.

Apple was sacrificing functionality for thinness

[Dieter Bohn / The Verge]

recent posts

Living your brand values

For those that have never seen Ellen DeGeneres’s show, its core value is about being nice to people. So when she’s called out by her crew for apparently being mean, it sets her at odds with the brand values of her show, and undermines the implicit trust between the show and its viewers.

Your product has to embody the brand values you claim

[I Manage Products]

How do I make my product roadmap a better communication tool?

Hi Jock,

My product roadmap is not getting the right information across to other people in my company. In particular, my customer success and marketing teams are struggling to plan their work for upcoming product releases. I’m also not sure how I can show my roadmap’s relationship to the half-yearly OKRs we set. How can I improve it?

Your product roadmap is a communication tool

[I Manage Products]

How can I keep track of all these product metrics?

Hi Jock,

Do you have any advice on productivity tools for tracking product metrics? I’m seeking guidance on streamlining feedback and metrics management. Juggling continuous discovery insights, team feedback, and metric tracking has become increasingly overwhelming.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start

[I Manage Products]

can we help you?

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Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from too many unfinished draft articles.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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